Privatization and restructuring of this island’s 63 state enterprises must be on the table as Barbados overhauls its ailing economy, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur has said.
However, while acknowledging that job cuts would be part of the process, he urged Government to put measures in place to cushion the likely blow.
“Let us agree that the burden on them [affected Government workers] must be eased by us putting in place arrangements for them to be able to find jobs for themselves outside the private sector as new entrepreneurs,” Arthur told the Lower Chamber during debate on the 2017/2018 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure.
The former Prime Minister called for partnerships to be developed with financial institutions and the wider private sector to ease the expected dislocation.
Insisting there was nothing wrong with privatization, Arthur also chided the Government for sending mixed messages on the issue, saying privatization simply meant that some state entities would better function in the private sector and could then be used to reduce the island’s spiraling debt and to empower workers.
“All I am saying to the House is that if we have to privatize, two conditions should be attached – that they use the proceeds to work down the debt that I say is going to reach three billion dollars in a few years and use privatization as a means of bringing people into the ownership of entities in this
“Let there be shareholder options so that people go to work in this country, not just to earn a wage, but also with the expectation to be able to earn a dividend.”
Arthur also dismissed suggestions by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler that Government was hard-pressed to touch costly transfers to state entities, warning that the Freundel Stuart administration could not put off rationalization of its social services.
“I believe that access to state services in health and education must be preserved for those at the bottom who cannot afford to pay,” he said, while proposing that Government reinstates a registered education savings plan the former BLP administration had introduced to encourage parents to save for their children’s education.
“I also believe that in area of health we should have a situation where if people are not going to have access to state-funded health care that we give people a health care allowance that would enable them to offset any cost of health insurance or any cost of having to buy their health care on the private market,” Arthur said.